Bird flu vaccine being tested on volunteers in Moscow

(Itar-Tass) - A vaccine against bird flu has begun to be tested in Moscow.

Although there have been no human bird flu cases in Russia so far, the affected livestock keeps growing.

A group of 240 volunteers have agreed to participate in the vaccine tests. None of them will be taken to hospital. They will be systematically taking temperature readings and writing down the results in a special table, reports Trend.

The vaccine was produced on the basis of the Vietnamese strain of the bird flu virus.

The first deputy general director of the Microgen research and production association (the vaccines developer), Andrei Semchenko, has told the media eight volunteers have been vaccinated already. Each participant in the vaccines clinical tests will be paid no less than 150 euros.

The results of testing on animals give rise to cautious optimism regarding the effectiveness in the struggle against the H5N1 strain, said Professor Anton Katlinsky, the head of the team that produced the vaccine. Katlinsky said clinical tests of a vaccine with different strain content would begin soon.

We use a know-how that allows us to make vaccines based on any virus strain within the standard deadline. The process takes six weeks on the average, he said.

The participating volunteers will undergo double vaccination with a 28-day interval. They are medical personnel, doctors, donors, and representatives of other risk groups, including poultry farm workers aged 18 to 55. Tests will continue for five weeks to end in the middle of August.

The daily Moskovsky Komsomolets quotes Sergei Korovkin, the chief researcher at the enterprise that developed the vaccine, as saying that originally the scientists started working on five versions. One did not require injection and could be used as a nasal spray. However, tests on mice, guinea pigs and rabbits showed that only three ones were really effective.

Nobody will be infecting the volunteers with the real virus, of course, the daily said. The scientists want to see how well the human body takes it, and if it triggers the production of antibodies.

The first reports of massive death of hens and geese in Russia arrived on June 21, 2005. About one million birds ten percent of the overall livestock have died of bird flu since.

According to the agriculture watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor this year bird flu cases have been registered in 90 localities in eleven regions of the Southern Federal District and three regions of the Siberian Federal District, said the on-line publication NEWSru.com.

As a result of measures the sanitary service has taken so far the disease has been wiped out in the Southern Federal District altogether.

Still prone to bird flu risks are the Novosibirsk and Omsk regions and the Altai territory.

In its forecast of emergencies this year the Emergency Situations Ministry said a spread of the A flu virus (H5N1) that has penetrated the inter-species barrier would be a threat to national security.

The Emergency Situations Ministry says that in case of the emergence of a pandemic type of the virus an epidemic may begin any moment, first and foremost in cities where there are airports having links with China (Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Moscow and St. Petersburg).

The ministry says the risk humans may be infected by sick birds will be rather low this year, but likely changes in the viruss gene structure during its circulation in wild birds at wintering sites may eventually result in the infection or risk groups poultry farms and veterinary service employees.

Analysis carried out by the World Health Organization rules out any risk the virus may be transferred from human to human, said NEWSru.com.

The Emergency Situations Ministry believes that the bird flu virus may mutate into a human-transferable strain in a year or two.

During a future pandemic the number of sick adults in Russia may reach 27.4 million, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

The virus strain H5N1 lethal to humans was first time identified in Hong Kong in 1997, when it killed several people. Later the virus spread to South Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos Indonesia and then to Europe.

So far the virus has killed 126 people around the world.

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